The Seemingly Harmless Pregnancy Trend That's Putting Babies at Risk

Pregnant mom looking at her baby belly

As a pregnant mom, you can't help but want to feel and track your growing bun's every move. You subscribe to weekly newsletters that compare your baby's size to fruit, keep ultrasounds to hang in your child's nursery, and look forward to every doctor's appointment (at least when giving blood isn't involved) for updates. While these efforts to be close to LO are pretty common, there's a growing trend of expectant moms using at-home fetal heart monitors that's raising eyebrows and causing lots of concern.


The use of a device that monitors your baby's heartbeat sounds pretty harmless, which makes it easy to understand why so many expectant parents are flocking to stores to pick one up. Not only do these medical gadgets allow you to zero in on baby's thumping heart pulsations whenever and wherever you want, but they also give you a few Grey's Anatomy feels as you get to play doctor (paging Mom-to-be).

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Companies have also made it super easy to scoop up a personal heart doppler that won't rock your pockets and can arrive at your home faster than you can say in-store pickup or free two-day shipping -- tempting even more parents to jump on the DIY bandwagon.

Sonoline B Fetal Doppler in Pink with 3MHz Doppler Probe - The Authentic Baby Heart Rate Monitor from Baby Doppler
Sonoline B Fetal Doppler in Pink with 3MHz Doppler Probe

Even celebrities are getting in on the at-home baby heart rate action by purchasing their own monitors. Former Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo and wife Candice Crawford recently revealed to People they use one of these on-trend gadgets to help their other children be more in tune with their third child, who's on the way.

"We bought a little handheld baby monitor, and they love listening to the baby's heartbeat," Crawford revealed.

Though these OTC monitors are practically everywhere -- likely putting the most worrisome pregnant woman's mind at ease -- experts appear to give these baby heart monitors two thumbs down, and they're speaking up about the potential hazards of using them.

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Summer Infant® Heart-to-Heart® Prenatal Listening System
Summer Infant® Heart-to-Heart® Prenatal Listening System
Bed, Bath & Beyond

Elizabeth Hutton, CEO of Kicks Count, a UK organization that aims to empower mums-to-be with knowledge while reducing the number of stillbirths (the charity supports monitoring baby's movement, hence the name Kicks Count), is working to ban the sale of at-home fetal heart monitors in an online petition addressed to Prime Minister Theresa May.

"Medical professionals do not advocate the use of home dopplers and yet they are freely available to buy ..." Hutton notes in her appeal.

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Though you might be scratching your head as to what the big deal is, Hutton warns OTC fetal monitors can both give pregnant women a false sense of security if they hear their baby's heartbeat, and cause fear in the event that they're unable to find a heartbeat due to lack of professional training.

"We've had cases where there has been something wrong with a baby and the mother has been wrongly reassured after hearing her own heartbeat, or the sound of blood pumping through the placenta, leading to a dangerous delay in her seeking medical attention," Jane Munro, quality and audit development advisor at the Royal College of Midwives, reveals in Hutton's petition. "In at least one instance, sadly the baby died."


Munro also notes in the petition that home doppler use can cause unncessary stress in pregnant women and "can lead to raised blood pressure in the mother and premature births."

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Elizabeth is certainly not alone on her quest to get expectant parents to drop at-home fetal heart monitors. The US Food and Drug Administration has also warned pregnant women about the dangers of OTC doppler ultrasound heartbeat monitors, reiterating that only medical professionals should only use them.

"When the product is purchased over the counter and used without consultation with a health care professional taking care of the pregnant woman, there is no oversight of how the device is used," Dr. Shahram Vaezy, an FDA biomedical engineer, mentions on the website. He continues:

"... There is little or no medical benefit expected from the exposure. Furthermore, the number of sessions or the length of a session in scanning a fetus is uncontrolled, and that increases the potential for harm to the fetus and eventually the mother."

So, what can expectant parents do to make sure LO is doing okay that doesn't involve an at-home doppler monitor, you ask? The American Pregnancy Association still recommends counting fetal movements, which is an old-school approach that will never go out of style.
No matter how tempting it might be to keep an over-the-counter fetal heart rate monitor on your nightstand, it's better to heed experts' warnings about the potential risks and leave the devices in the hands of your doctor or a certified midwife.

As Elizabeth Hutton notes in her petition,"Fetal diagnostic testing is an important medical procedure and should not be seen as something 'fun' when it puts lives at risk. We need to put the safety of babies ahead of entertainment."

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